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Hearings on shaping Auckland’s development underway

Hearings on shaping Auckland’s development underway

New Zealand’s largest planning review gets underway in Auckland today with an Independent Hearings Panel beginning its deliberations on Auckland Council’s Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

The hearing is before Environment Court judge, David Kirkpatrick who chairs the Panel, and seven panel members. There are also 15 mediators and facilitators who will help resolve issues through expert conference and mediation.

The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan sets the rules about how the Auckland region will develop over decades, including what can be built and where, and how to protect the environment and Auckland’s built and cultural heritage.

More than 9500 submissions were made on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. The Panel will consider the views of submitters – plus a further 3500 submitters who have responded to the original submissions – over 74 topics.

Judge Kirkpatrick said the hearing is the biggest ever in New Zealand planning history because it involves the Regional Policy Statement and both the Regional and District Plan documents all wrapped up in one document.

“There’s been a huge number of submissions and a high level of public participation – and that’s a good thing for such an important document,” said Judge Kirkpatrick.

He said the requirements of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act made this hearing different from the traditional adversarial planning hearing. The Act has a requirement that the Panel use pre-hearing processes and mediation to help identify the most appropriate planning position for the Auckland region.

“So there’s a large level of the ‘Good of the Auckland region’ objective here rather than simply saying which side wins and which side loses,” said Judge Kirkpatrick.

“With the complex issues involved we have to have a very clear high-level regard for the sustainable management of the resources of the whole Auckland region. If we adopted a solely technical approach to our task we would ‘miss the wood for the trees’.”

He said the Panel is working to an extremely tight timeframe to complete its report to Auckland Council by July 2016 on changes it thinks should be made to the plan.
The Panel will be working through a process ‘from the general to the particular’. It will start with the Regional Policy Statement issues such as rural/urban growth, residential and industrial growth and higher level transport issues. It will then deal with the more specific rule-based issues and then move on to the site-specific changes.

“It’s important that we have integration between the higher-level objectives and strategy of the plan and the methods on the ground,” said Judge Kirkpatrick.

“We could compromise a policy very easily by simply by having exceptions to the rules which give away its validity.”

Judge Kirkpatrick said the Panel is endeavouring where possible to come to decisions on issues when the Panel hears from submitters.

“It’s better that we do it when we hear from people, but we acknowledge that as we go through we are likely to have to go back and reconsider some of the things we have decided.

“We need to make sure that our decision-making has been consistent throughout and that the recommendations we are making to Council produce an integrated set of planning provisions.”


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